Feyenoord Academy: The chief leaves, but the future is assured

When Stanley Brard was appointed as chief of the youth academy in February 2006, supporters at first resisted his arrival at Varkenoord, the youth complex of Dutch side Feyenoord.  Although Brard played for the Dutch giants for most of his career, he was seen as a puppet of a failing managing elite who got to power after six rebellious months in Rotterdam. Jorien van den Herik, who had saved the club from going bankrupt in the early 90s, now was the main target of supporters, who were angry at his financial policy, in which he seemed to give himself an advantage while the club’s financial position got worse and worse, leading to high debts and possible bankruptcy. The new managerial board was suspected to give high functions to friends and family – Brard included.

But when Brard announced to leave the academy at the end of this season to become chief of the youth academy of the Azerbadjian side FC Gabala just two weeks ago, praise was all that ringed. In seven years time, Brard had formed the youth academy into the most succesful of the country with numerous players making their debut in the first team and winning the award for best youth academy for three years in a row. Nowadays, carrying first-team players like Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Jordy Clasie, Tonny Vilhena, Daryl Janmaat and Jean-Paul Boëtius are not only products of Brard’s succesful academy, but they are among Europe’s most willing and talented players – all having represented the national team. No doubt they all will be sold for much money in a couple of years, as De Vrij, Martins Indi and Clasie might already leave the club this summer.

They aren’t the only Feyenoord youth academy graduates currently catching the eye. Georginio Wijnaldum made his debut as a 16-year-old just two monhts after Brard was appointed in 2006 to become the youngest player to play for the Feyenoord first team in the club’s history. The midfielder spent five years in De Kuip before he joined rivals PSV. FC Twente midfielder Leroy Fer, who was set to leave for Everton last winter, but the transfer didn’t go through after financial disputes between the two clubs, played in the first-team of Feyenoord between 2008 and 2011. Both are products of the Feyenoord Academy, but left the club because of a ‘lack of prosperity’ in 2011. That season, Feyenoord rose to second in the league, ahead of both Twente and PSV, with a team full of academy graduates. Clasie, Kaj Ramsteijn and Miquel Nelom, academy graduates who played for affiliate team Excelsior Rotterdam in the seasons before, turned out to be important and talented players for the team, while Vilhena made his debut just weeks after he turned seventeen. De Vrij and Martins Indi, defenders playing together for most of their youth, were at the defending core of Feyenoord’s successes, while former youth coach Jean Paul van Gastel was promoted to become assistant coach of Ronald Koeman. It was Renaissance at De Kuip, after years of sportive and financial misery.

It is clear Feyenoord holds the future now. As one of the ‘big three’ teams in the Dutch Eredivisie, they always had a talented academy. But for years, the gap between the academy and the first-team was just too big. Robin van Persie and former Real Madrid youngster Royston Drenthe are the best  known players to make it to the first team this age before Brard’s arrival, while for numerous talents the academy or an incidential run out in the first team was all there was.

Even of the generation of players born in 1982-1983, one of the most talented and promising generations that ever played at the academy, only few made it to the senior squad. Despite winning the youth league for two seasons in a row without losing a single game, only Van Persie made it to be a regular first-team player, while players like Glenn Loovens, Civard Sprockel and Said Boutahar all made a promising entry at De Kuip, but were let go after a couple of years. Most of the team made it to professional football elsewhere eventually, but De Kuip was a castle too hard to enter.

It all started to change from 2006 on. Of course Brard’s appointment is not the only reason the youth academy is flourishing as never before. Feyenoord’s financial position, almost leading to bankruptcy in 2010, caused the club to fall back on its own talents before looking elsewhere to fill the first-team. There simply wasn’t any money to buy players, which made the choice easy: the youth academy became the main supply for the squad.

In seven years time, much has changed. Feyenoord is back at the top of the Eredivisie, its financial position is getting better and the youth academy is delivering talent after talent. Brard and his team of mainly ex-first-team players as youth coaches have established a structured academy with a clear vision and training method. Every talent gets specialized individual advise on his training and diet. At the club of ‘Geen Woorden, Maar Daden’ (Actions speak louder than words), working hard and training a lot aren’t the motto’s any more. Training hours have gone back so as to not to overload the young players and make training sessions more efficient.

This is why little will change after Brard’s departure. The success of the academy is its structure, not just the person leading it. With Brard leaving for FC Gabala, the academy won’t collapse. In a few weeks a new chief youth academy will be appointed and it is expected to be one of the current youth coaches. The under 19-team lead their league with a couple of games to go and are the likely to  become champion in a couple of weeks. This despite having already lost major talents  like Vilhena, Terence Kongolo, Anass Achabar and Boëtius, who have all made the step up to the first team.

Meanwhile, in the under 17-team, a new generation is getting ready to take over the power in De Kuip. It’s a comforting idea that 16-year-olds as Marlon Slabberkoorn (who was linked to top European clubs but will sign a professional contract soon), Oussama Idrissi, Melvin Kingsale, Bart Nieuwkoop, Polish-goalkeeper Kamil Miazek (said to be the goalkeeper of the first team in the future), Milton Klooster, Robbert de Vos, Ali Ulusoy and Caner Yalamogl are looking to join the aforementioned group of Feyenoord youth academy graduates in the next few years. All academy-players who have spent most of their youth at the club and are expected to be ready in a couple of years to take Feyenoord to even higher levels of success.

De Vrij, Martins Indi, Clasie and Brard may leave, the spirit of an academy-based first team probably and hopefully won’t. For the first time in years,  the fanatic fanbase of Feyenoord have something to be proud of again; a homegrown first team capable of achieving success.

Mark Lievisse Adriaanse is a fanatic Feyenoord-supporter and freelance journalist, writing about both politics and football. You can find him on the twitter too: @Markla94.

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